Best sports cars 2021
If you value driving thrills but can't stretch to the price of a true supercar, a sports car could be the ideal middle ground
Few motoring genres offer so much variety in terms of layout as the sports car. They can feature a plethora of different engine types and positions, cylinder counts, natural aspiration or forced induction, manual or automatic gearboxes, two- or four-wheel drive, we could go on, but while they come in many forms all have one thing in common.
A sports car’s raison d'être is to make you, the driver, the most integral part of the driving experience. This often means they aren’t designed with the need to cater for anything other than that simple notion, hence making all that we would consider a sports car two-door, road-based and without a need to appeal to the drama of a supercar.
In its rawest form a sports car can be incredibly focused yet also comfortable, the best manage to be accessible and amenable while still offering the purity of driver involvement and character that underpin the thrill of driving. Here, we pick our 10 favourite sports cars currently on sale, but let us know if you agree with our choices.
The Alpine A110 was an outstanding first effort from the revived marque to say the least, receiving almost full marks in our review and coming just a few points short of the top spot in 2018's eCoty. Sitting in-line with the likes of Porsche’s class-leading Cayman, but with added agility thanks to a lower kerb weight, it’s a rather accomplished machine.
Though the standard car would have sufficed, Alpine decided to add an S-variant to the lineup, extracting an additional 39bhp from its 1.8-litre turbo 4-pot power plant, lining the interior with a little more Alcantara and tweaking the setup for a better overall driving experience. There’s still no manual option, but that won’t deter us...
BMW M2 Competition
The M2 Competition replaced the N55-equipped M2, adding a full-fat M-developed S55 straight-six to the mix. The model is a nod to the old-school way of doing things in the sports car arena, with power sent to the rear wheels only, from the engine upfront, through a manual ’box in the middle.
Aside from the engine, other tweaks for the Competition include chassis tweaks to provide extra strengthening for the bodyshell and stiffer rear axle mounts. To maximise the gains delivered by these upgrades BMW’s engineers have also recalibrated both the ESP and the electronically controlled limited slip differential.
The M2 Competition is lithe and nimble, easily threaded at speed down a challenging road with an air purity to the process. Get generous with the throttle and the M2 becomes as angry as its bulging, short overhangs suggest, kicking out its tail – and hanging it there – with ease.
Toyota’s GT86 and the Subaru BRZ both offer a much-needed break from today’s forced-induction, hybrid-assist efficiency offensive, in the form of a driving experience akin to that of a machine from 15 years prior. The GT86/BRZ experience is all about sensation: perceiving body movements, grip levels and pitch and yaw through the seat of your pants.
Natural-aspiration, rear-wheel-drive and a manual gearbox are all you’ll find in either model, and although they have their quirks, they’re cars we should only embrace. The standard setup offers a set of ecocentric tyres usually found on a Prius, but before you scroll on, this makes it much more playful than its power figure would lead you to believe.
Porsche 911 Carrera
While it might seem predictable, the Porsche 911 is the universal sports car benchmark, and despite now regularly controveaning up to the performance and capability levels more commonly associated with supercars, continues to be. The new 992 has its compromises as a sports car, namely more weight, expense and larger dimensions, but get behind the wheel and there’s no mistaking you’re in anything other than a Porsche sports car. The quality of its controls are immaculate, with every driver-machine interaction coming with a level of sophistication that other sports cars continue to benchmark.
But while the 911 remains the standard bearer, its sheer speed and accessibility make it one that’s fast becoming increasingly hard to exploit on the road. That this is relevant to even the most basic Carrera models, which we’ll leave to you to decide whether it’s a good thing, or the beginning of the 911’s transformation into something other than a sports car.
Its gearbox is that bit sweeter than the unit in its bigger brother, the Evora, requiring no conscious thought to snick from ratio to ratio and the chassis strikes the perfect balance between immediacy and flightiness, with the steering allowing you to measure out microscopic adjustments to trace the line your eyes have mapped out ahead.
Applying throttle loads is similarly precise, offering options on how you steer the car through a corner. It’s no slouch in a straight line, either; the range-topping 430 model boasts a monumental 430bhp for a power-to-weight figure of over 400bhp per tonne.
Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
Though it might have gained a noise-restricting particulate filter and a few kilos of weight, the latest Cayman GT4 is still a stunning example of what might be considered sports car nirvana. Powered by a new 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated flat-six, derived from the excellent turbocharged 3.0-litre from the 992, it puts 414bhp and 309lb ft of torque to the rear wheels through one of the best manual transmissions on the market, albeit one with achingingly long ratios.
The new GT4 is host to an exceedingly rare attribute in its class, offering an incredible driver-machine connection that turns even slight inputs into instant responses. If you’re one for open-top thrills, the Boxster Spyder offers the same benefits without a roof or rear wing. It’s a win-win.
The Evora might feel like a relic in this company, but as it has time and again proven, a Lotus can always teach more glamorous rivals a thing or two. Feedback, response and a luscious delicacy to the chassis are the Evora’s gift to motoring, giving it an almost unmatched poise and fluidity over the sort of British roads that often catch out even the most capable sports cars.
The latest GT410 and GT410 Sport models also feature the latest iteration of Lotus’s supercharged V6 engine, which despite having humble origins from Toyota, feels as exotic and charismatic as the best units from Porsche and BMW.
Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0
OK, so the Boxster (and Cayman) GTS 4.0 might seem a tad too close to include alongside the GT4 in this grouping, but they are a defined rank to consider in themselves, especially when in Boxster form. Why the Boxster specifically, while to some the Spyder’s roof might add an extra layer of speciality to the sports car package, the reality is that the fiddly mechanism is more troublesome than its worth, and to some disrupts the standard Boxster’s proportions aesthetically too.
But the GTS 4.0s real drawcard in both forms is that it offers 95 percent of the GT4 and Spyder’s capability, but with a pretty hefty discount, which in the Cayman’s case is over £10k. As fitted it isn’t just one of the most satisfying and capable sports cars around, but also one that by all intent and purpose looks like superb value.
The Toyota Supra is certainly not a perfect sports car. It’s engine, although immensely strong, doesn’t hit the same high notes as rivals from Porsche or Alpine on account of its anodyne power delivery. The transmission is flat and a little soft, the differential is untrustworthy in slippery conditions and its interior is a broadly bland environment, and yet, there’s something curiously intoxicating about it.
It’s handling balance, although sometimes fickle, is great fun to try and get your head around; its snappy demeanor and flat torque curve an entertaining adversary to try and overcome. Given space it’ll properly move around too, but to get the best out of it the space and margin-for-error of a track is required to unlock the car’s true character. That it looks like a concept car, feels special on the road and actually makes for an economical and cosseting daily only goes to broaden its appeal.